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Effects of computer-mediated dictionaries on L2 vocabulary learning

Retention loss and word recognition gains after posttests

Apart from the findings addressed above, a surprising result emerged. Except for beginner students who experienced retention loss when using computer-mediated dictionaries, both groups of students continued to show gains in word recognition after posttests, although they did not have access to the stories that they had read in the two conditions. This coincided with Knight’s finding when students in her study read in the no-dictionary condition. According to Knight (1994), the students may have learned additional words or confirmed ambivalent guesses after immediateposttests. These explanations seem plausible, as well as applicable to the present study.


In her study, Knight administrated posttests immediately and delayed posttests after two weeks whereas the Chinese ESL students in the study took posttests after two days and delayed posttests after three weeks. The intervals were similar in the design of the two studies.

There are several limitations in this study. First, the present study examined only students’ provisional acquisition of basic word form–meaning pairings within a limited timeframe, and involved a small number of participants. It did not measure other important aspects of students’ vocabulary knowledge, such as morphological and derivational knowledge of target words. The entire vocabulary acquisition process is more complex than the present study has addressed. Further longitudinal studies are needed to substantiate the findings by employing more comprehensive vocabulary assessment measures with a larger sample size. Second, the criteria used to determine students’ proficiency levels between the beginner and intermediate groups were based on the ESL classes they attended and the scores of their ESL term exams (i.e. their Ontario Student Record), whereas an independent assessment of their proficiency would have been preferable.


Third, although bilingual vocabulary tests were administered to the students immediately after each monolingual equivalent,parallel forms of bilingual vocabulary tests should be used in the future study to completely avoid the practice effect on the test result. Lastly, though the students were told to focus on the reading, given the three administered vocabulary tests, this may have affected the way students noticed and attended to words while reading and referencing them in the dictionaries. To a certain extent intentional learning component may exist in this study on incidental learning of vocabulary through reading.

Nevertheless, the study showed that CALL programs, such as e-Lective,oriented toward providing L2 learners’ with comprehensible input by instantly enhancing their word recognition ability, have considerable promise in promoting extensive reading and vocabulary learning. Computer-assisted scaffolding for text processing can be especially effective for ESL students who do not have access to literacy-rich environments, such as the students in the present study. The students were observed to be motivated and made frequent use of computer-mediated dictionaries. The findings indicated that L2 vocabulary learning was subject to the influence of learners’ proficiency levels. To optimize the learning outcomes in CALL environments, L2 learners at the beginning stage need their teachers’ instructional support to build up basic linguistic knowledge structures to ensure their long-term word retention, e.g. pre-reading activities focusing on specific linguistic features and content relevant to the text (Hudson, 1982; Levine & Reves, 1994).


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